The history of Afternoon Tea dates back to the early 1800s when many a duchess or lady of leisure would indulge in a spot of tea and a finger sandwich in their stately home parlour before a stroll round a promenade of note to be seen in.
Although from the outside Bea's of Bloomsburys cafe in St Paul's, London, doesn't scream stately home with it's glass fronted exterior walls extending on to a shopping mall, Afternoon Tea is served here, not High Tea (a more substantial tea break the lower classes had with lots of food to be more filling and replace dinner..not sure why this hasn't caught on as well. I mean I'm in! Although I'm still having dinner!!). I went to the Bea's of Bloomsburys cafe for Afternoon Tea with some of my good friends (Emily, Janet and Alex) one Sunday last month, and left so full wondering if I had been served High Tea instead by mistake.
St Paul's is one of the most beautiful buildings and somewhere I think everyone should visit at least once while visiting London. Look at the dome it's colossal! You can also go inside but be advised it is a place of worship so put on your best behaviour and check times in advance because they do hold special services.
If you're not so fond of walking round buildings and would rather eat cake and drink tea but would have still liked to have seen St Paul's, you can always sit outside at Bea's because St Paul's is across the road. To quote Tracy from Hairspray 'I can (could) hear the bells' chiming from our booth in the cafe.
The inside of the St Paul's cafe has a modern baroque theme with jewel-coloured velvet clothed booths, vintage cake stands, huge baroque style picture frames featuring some of Bea's cakes, and mix and match teapots on the tables and ceilings (as lights!). These vintages features are contrasted by a minimalistic layout to the cafe with a pewter and powder blue statement wall up and downstairs, and dark floors throughout.
As working gals we opted for the Afternoon Tea with a glass of bubbles (champagne) and I ordered a hibiscus tea (caffeine free baby!). I'm always pleased when an establishment offers to provide us more tea on the house, that is the sign of a classy cafe. When the food came out we were entirely overwhelmed with all the food that appeared before us. I've had afternoon teas previously where there's been a cake, scone and a sandwich or two, but this was a spectacular spread!
There were baguettes smeared, stuffed and smothered with Parma ham and rocket, cheddar and onion jam, and my favourite, which I've recreated at home several times, cream cheese, honey, thyme and walnuts. I could have eaten a whole stand of those honeyed cream cheese sandwiches. An array of frosted cupcakes, the traditional Afternoon Tea treat of clotted cream scones with jam, and then some untraditional favourites like brownies and blondies, meringues and marshmallows!
We tried four different cupcakes, raspberry chocolate, key lime pie with meringue frosting, red velvet with cream cheese frosting of course and Baileys*. The key lime pie cupcake was our agreed favourite it was deliciously tart and a super light sponge. The red velvet was good as expected (I don't think you can have a bad red velvet cake) and the raspberry chocolate was rich both with chocolate and raspberries making the name very fitting. Feeling very chocolated out (it does happen) I skipped on the brownies and went straight on to the scones, which were huge. Don't be deceived by their boulder like appearance these scones weren't dry especially when drenched in clotted cream and jam. If there are no scones at an Afternoon Tea it is not an Afternoon Tea.**
*Ironically I hate Baileys so I did not touch this cupcake and therefore have no opinion of it apart from it looked pretty. Eat at your own peril unless you like Baileys.
**This fact is opinion based on a poll of 4. I was included in the poll. As were Emily, Janet and Alex who ate the scones with me.
I have a confession.
I saw the cupcake stand with the girls legs in the air on Bea's website when deciding where to book Afternoon Tea for me and the ladies, and it was partially/it was on that decision that I booked Afternoon Tea at Bea's. When booking I asked specifically for that cake stand. I am not ashamed. The team at Bea's unfortunately explained in a very apologetic email (which was not needed!) that they didn't have any anymore because they kept breaking. HOWEVER, when I turned up I was shocked and really thrilled to see they'd found one for us. Definitely one of the best services I've ever had, they were amazing and very attentive.
Displayed on this stand was the assortment of modern treats including light and sweet raspberry meringues, fluffy passion fruit marshmallow full of flavour and scrumptious lemon blondies and brownies of two types (nutty and non-nutty). I was really impressed by all these treats because when I think of Bea's I always jump to thinking of cake and actually although the cakes were really good the treats were the stars of the show. Of which you can purchase bags of flavoured marshmallows and meringues on your way out or you could make some yourself...see my recipes for raspberry and rose marshmallows, and raspberry meringue kisses.
So if you fancy an Afternoon Tea that's fancy but somewhat cheaper than Claridges or the Ritz, traditional but with a modern twist and that serves marshmallows (!!) try the Afternoon Tea at Bea's which is £19.00 per head or £26.50 with bubbles.
Feeling very full and sated we did as all London ladies should do after Afternoon Tea.
We took a turn around St Paul's promenade.